In some strands of Reformed theology, the regulative principle of worship is understood to mean that "church holidays," not specifically established in the Bible, should not be recognized in public worship. Thus in some denominations, church services around Christmas and Easter make no special mention of the holidays.

John Calvin, of course, was a developer and proponent of the regulative principle of worship, but it's not clear to me how strictly he applied the rule to the case of Christmas. There seems to be an ongoing debate over his beliefs which is a bit difficult to wade through (see, for example, quotes in favor and against).

Here, I'd like to suspend judgment on what he thought, and instead focus on what he did. Did Calvin recognize or observe Christmas during public worship? Did he do so only in certain places or times in his career? And if so, in what way did he observe it? Casual mention in an unrelated sermon, more hymns about Christ's birth than usual, or perhaps a sermon text like Micah 5 or Luke 2?

To be clear, I'm not interested in whether or not Calvin gave gifts on Christmas or otherwise celebrated the holiday outside public worship. I'm only asking about his application of the regulative principle of worship, which applies only to public worship services.

2 Answers 2


In Calvin's sermon on Christmas Day (I believe it fell on a Friday) in 1551, he says the following:

In truth, as you have often been admonished, it is good to set aside one day out of the year in which we are reminded of all the good that has occurred because of Christ’s birth in the world, and in which we hear the story of his birth retold, which will be done Sunday.

Once we have understood that, we will no longer find it strange that Noel is not being observed today, but that on Sunday we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper and recite the story of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It appears that Calvin was opposed to celebrating the Lord's Supper and elevating the day on Christmas Day, but was not opposed to celebrating Christ's birth on a Lord's Day. Liturgically, it seems that the story of the nativity was recited specially on the Lord's Day closest to Christmas Day. His letters suggest that he was ambivalent towards having Christmas Day as a festival day.


Seems like he did keep it. He didn't see Christmas as sanctioned in the New Testament, but thought it should be up to the people and the local church to decide on whether to celebrate it. He wrote a letter in 1551 which in part stated:

Since my recall, I have pursued the moderate course of keeping Christ’s birth-day as you are wont to do

This article seems to lead credence to this viewpoint: John Calvin Observed Christmas

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    I saw that quote, and linked to that article in my question, but it doesn't tell me anything about Calvin's actual practice. Did he "[keep] Christ's birth-day" personally, or in the liturgy of his church? If in the liturgy, in what way? Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 15:36

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